The 1968 amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution established the Office of the Public Defender. The authority to appoint the Public Defender and as many assistants as necessary was given to the Commissioners of each county in Pennsylvania.
The Public Defender has the responsibility to represent everyone who has the constitutionally guaranteed right to counsel but cannot afford an attorney. In general, the Public Defender will represent everyone accused of a misdemeanor or a felony, and in summary cases where there is a substantial likelihood that a jail sentence will be imposed.
The Public Defender will represent a client in criminal cases from the preliminary hearing before a Magisterial District Judges through trial before the Court of Common Pleas. In addition, the Public Defender has the responsibility of representing clients in appeals to the appropriate Appellate Courts and in post-conviction proceedings. Finally, the Office will represent clients who are facing Domestic Relations Office contempt proceedings before a judge, and Indirect Criminal Contempt cases arising out of a Protection from Abuse order.